This is the second part of my visit to Polykastro, Greece, a small town transformed by the refugee camps in the area.
“What are you doing here?” Alaa asked me inside the lobby of the Park Hotel.
I had talked to a lot of people at the Park Hotel — a hang-out for residents of the nearby Nea Kavala refugee camp — but I hadn’t talked to him. A lot of people had just come up to me to make small talk. Alaa seemed somehow too serious for that. Not cold, but serious. I found myself sitting next to him at the coffee table under the TV, and I had said hi first.
“I’m writing a blog about the situation of refugees and volunteers,” I said.
“Oh, I thought you were here to help.”
Later that evening, around 8 p.m., I saw him again and smiled.
“So, do you want to see our camp?” he asked.
He knew and I knew that journalists could only get into the official military camps if they were invited by the Greek government. I didn’t have the time to visit the parliament. But since I’m writing about the difference between official and unofficial camps, I was certainly interested. When the Greek government cleared the massive unofficial camp at Idomeni in late May, they moved as many people as they could to official military-run camps, usually far outside cities and away from borders. But it’s hard for journalists to get in, and not a lot has been written about conditions at these places.
“Yes,” I said.
“Okay. I help you get in, you help me tell the world how bad our life is here.”